Whole wheat — move over. In recent years, spelt has become the darling of the health food set. An ancient grain whose origin is the subject of some controversy (there are those who believe that it first grew in the Middle East while others claim it originated in Europe), spelt is essentially the same grain it was in ancient times, unlike wheat, which undergoes extensive hybridization and genetic modification.

Higher in protein and B complex vitamins as well as simple and complex carbohydrates than wheat, spelt is also considered easier to digest due to its high water solubility, which makes nutrients more easily absorbed by the body. It also has a pleasant nutty flavor and is a delicious substitute for wheat in almost any recipe. I find it offers a lighter texture to baked goods than whole wheat flour.

So why did spelt fall out of favor throughout the centuries? Simply because spelt’s extra-hard husk was more difficult to process, and it yielded less per field than wheat, making it more expensive for producers and consumers. Yet in recent years, an increasing number of consumers and high-end bakeries are willing to pay the cost.

In Israel, it’s easy to find whole spelt flour in health-food stores and most supermarkets. (Some stores carry white-spelt flour as well, which is akin to regular white flour). Baking with spelt is just like baking with regular wheat flours, but may require a little less water because of its solubility, so start with a little less, because you can always add more. If baking with yeast, do not over-mix the dough or batter; spelt’s gluten is a more fragile compound than that of wheat.

If you’re a spelt fan, you also might like to try spelt berries (one botanist wrote me that there is no such thing as wheat berries or spelt berries, but botanically or not, they are still referred to as “berries” in the US), which make an excellent substitute for wheatberries in cholent or soup. Soak them overnight before using. Lately, I’ve also noticed more crackers and other baked goods available in spelt versions.

This week, a quick whole spelt beer bread that takes six minutes to mix and under an hour to bake – one of the fastest ways to eat tasty, fresh bread. For best results, use a good-quality Israeli boutique beer, easily found in wine, gourmet or health food stores.

The nutty goodness of a whole spelt beer bread (photo credit: Anatoly Michaelo/Courtesy Korim Publishers)

The nutty goodness of a whole spelt beer bread (photo credit: Anatoly Michaelo/Courtesy Korim Publishers)

Quick Whole Spelt Beer Bread (Makes one loaf)

  •  3 ¼ cups whole spelt flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons molasses, silan or honey
  • 1 ½ cups (340 ml) dark beer (unsweetened)
  • A little fine oatmeal or caraway seeds for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350F). Butter a 12 X 7 cm loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix the beer into the molasses and gradually add to the flour mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until it has the consistency of a sticky dough.
  3. Pour the dough into the prepared pan and use a spatula to spread it evenly in the pan. Cut a 1 1/2 cm deep slit down the center, lengthwise (this will allow steam to escape).  Sprinkle the top with a little oatmeal or caraway seeds.
  4. Bake for about 40 minutes or more until the top of the bread is golden-brown and a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, let stand 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

From “Healthy Baking Made Easy” by Phyllis Glazer, Korim Publishers.